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Meet Dal’s Top Co‑op Students of the Year

- March 21, 2018

Dal's Top Co-op Students of the Year. Standing, left to right: Aaron Szeto, Christine Gaudet, Eric Dejardins, Craig Dedels. Seated, left to right: Christian Thomas, Karolyn Long. (Andrea McKay photos)
Dal's Top Co-op Students of the Year. Standing, left to right: Aaron Szeto, Christine Gaudet, Eric Dejardins, Craig Dedels. Seated, left to right: Christian Thomas, Karolyn Long. (Andrea McKay photos)

In 2017, nearly 2,000 co-op work terms and internships were completed by Dalhousie students.

Work-integrated learning experiences give students the opportunity to combine in-class education with hands-on, paid work experiences that better position them as future leaders in our communities — locally, nationally, and globally.

Coinciding with National Co-op and Work-Integrated Learning Week, Dalhousie’s co-op offices (Management Career Services; Science, Information Technology and Engineering Co-op Education; and Architecture and Planning Co-op) will celebrate these work experiences, along with those who help make them happen, at the second-annual Dalhousie Top Co-op Awards. Among the award categories is one that gives accolades to the top co-op students from each Dal faculty currently offering a co-op program.

Dalhousie’s Top Co-op Student of the Year Awards recognize and celebrate the students who not only performed exceptionally well on their work terms to date, but who also demonstrated strong academic performance while making a significant contribution to their co-op employer.

Meet the six outstanding students selected to receive this year’s award.

Christian Thomas, Bachelor of Commerce

Investing in experiential learning pays off

Christian Thomas’s interest in capital markets began well before he started at Dalhousie. When he turned 16, his grandfather gave him some birthday money and told him to invest it. “My grandfather pushed me to not only have a fundamental understanding of personal finance, but also that of global markets,” says Christian.

Now in his third year of the Commerce program, Christian is a Finance major who has started to establish a presence on Bay Street through his last two co-op work terms working at the money market desk on the trading floor at TD Securities. The role involves long, intense hours in an extremely fast-paced work environment and requires a strong work ethic to perform well.

That hasn’t phased Christian, though, who describes himself as a naturally ambitious person, and set a personal goal of meeting with one new team member each week during his second co-op at TD. “I am always looking for opportunities to push my personal and professional boundaries. There is so much experience and advice that can be shared over a coffee that you cannot learn from a textbook. This fuels my desire to not only achieve specified goals, but to exceed them, and keeps me motivated even on those long, intense days.”

When Christian is not on co-op work term in Toronto, or busy with classes, he can be found getting involved in any experiential learning opportunity he possibly can through the Rowe School of Business. Whether it’s acting as the Case & Conference Co-Chair for the Dalhousie Commerce Society, or head of the Rates Group for the Dalhousie Investment Society, Christian sees these extra commitments as offering him an opportunity to grow his skills and share what he has learned first-hand.

Christian joined the Dalhousie Investment Society during his first year which helped him to further develop his interest in capital markets. “The Dalhousie Investment Society was an opportunity for me to start asking ‘why’ questions to senior students and it was through this discussion that I began to uncover my passion.” His current leadership role in the society allows Christian to pass on his experience to less experienced students and help them to uncover their passion.

Dedicating the time and effort to apply his education to various case and skills competitions over the past couple of years has been worth it for Christian. In January, he was the co-winner of Management Career Services’ “You’re Hired” Interview Competition. Earlier this month, he helped his Rowe School of Business teammates win the Atlantic Canada round of the CFA Institute Research Challenge, and advanced to compete among 54 teams from North and South America in the Regional Finals that took place in Boston yesterday.

Although he still has one final co-op work term and one year left in his undergrad, Christian can already envision a clear career path for himself thanks to his co-op experiences thus far. “This real-world experience reinforced my decision to pursue a career in capital markets while also teaching me invaluable components of the business.” (Andrea McKay & Ryan Earle)

Karolyn Long, Bachelor of Science

Exploring life through work and study

Marine Biology student Karolyn Long doesn’t rest her feet in any one place for very long. And, when it comes to discovering her options in life, she isn’t afraid of doing a little exploring.
 
While Karolyn’s academic journey began in Exercise Science, a change of heart meant putting her studies on hold so she could take some time to travel. Seeing new places, meeting new people, and getting the opportunity to work as she travelled (including a stint working aboard Carnival Cruise Lines), was just what was needed to help make a few personal discoveries.
 
With her sense of wanderlust satisfied, Karolyn says she became eager to go back to school, fresh with the perspectives she gained while working and living abroad.
 
The option of a co-op program factored high into her reasons for choosing Dal’s Marine Biology program: “When I was working abroad, I realized that it’s through work opportunities where I’ve fully grasped what it is that I’m doing, and how I learn best. Knowing this, I learned that the best way to reinforce my education was to work while studying.”
 
Karolyn’s co-op experiences would lead her to opportunities to continue to explore, taking the Montreal-born student to a few areas of rural Nova Scotia, including the ultra-remote Brier Island. Karolyn admits to having initial concern about spending a full summer away from the usual amenities city-living offers, but soon came to find gratitude for her ocean-living experience.
 
“It took two ferries just to get over to the island where we were located. But after working six out of seven days a week, I learned how nice it was to be in nature, watching whales and being away from TV and cellphones.”
 
Her rural experiences also opened her eyes to the passion and love her co-workers felt for their jobs. It became more about the people she met along the way, rather than the access to the conveniences she’d have had working in the city.
 
Her third and final work term, however, brought her back to Halifax where she worked with the IWK. Here, Karolyn says she was able to fully round-out her co-op experience.
 
With field experience on the water, as well as a co-op term spent learning the business-side of science with Acadian Seaplants in Digby, her time at the IWK allowed her to pursue science from an academic perspective, along with learning about the ethical use of animals.
 
Graduating this May, Karolyn has plans to return to Acadian Seaplants for the summer, but is keeping her mind (and likely her suitcase) wide-open for opportunities that may come post-graduation. (Allison Auld)

Eric Desjardins, Bachelor of Informatics

The (career) path less travelled
 
When it came to Bachelor of Informatics student Eric Desjardins’ journey leading to a career in computer science, you could say he took the unconventional route, nevertheless leading him to exactly where he was meant to be.
 
Originally from Quebec City, Eric first enrolled in a business program at St. Lawrence College. He admits that, at the time, a business degree seemed like the safe option and the one that would help land him a job swiftly after graduation. But after a few years of toiling away at his degree, it was clear that he was no longer motivated in his studies, and he began to wonder if there was something better for him.
 
After a friend’s suggestion led him to an interest in website development, Eric discovered computer science. Offering both a mix of project management and technical skills, Dal’s Computer Science program became his top choice.
 
So with an acceptance letter in-hand, Eric moved his life to Halifax in pursuit of a new future. As a mature student without family, friends or any other connections in Halifax, it would mark a huge transition.
 
While the mandatory co-op program was a key influence in choosing Dalhousie, Eric credits Computer Science faculty co-op advisor James Fleming for being the one to really convince him of the program’s merits.
 
Eric now acknowledges that co-op truly became a big part in establishing his life in a new city: “Co-op facilitated my transition to Halifax. Not only did it help me in gaining experience and learning more about my craft, but it helped me to engage with local employers, opening up my network in Halifax. Four years later, I’ve built lots of professional and personal relationships.”
 
Eric shares that the skills he learned though his work-term projects positioned him to be competitive in the job market. His final work term with digital agency Brave New World meant working with a highly-technical team, and provided him with the experience of working on a major project building computer applications on a scale that advanced his skills and strengthened his resume, ultimately positioning him for a competitive and successful grad job search.
 
Eric will be graduating this May, though he’s already landed a full-time position with a local start-up, permanently cementing this Quebec-born as a fully-fledged Haligonian. (Allison Auld)

Christine Gaudet, Bachelor of Engineering

Experiencing life hands-on

A quintessential busy bee, you could say that Christine Gaudet likes to get involved and try her hand at the many opportunities that come her way.

The fifth-year Industrial Engineering student describes her discipline as one of the broadest in terms of career paths, making it challenging to know what industry to pursue. For Christine, choosing co-op meant the chance to bridge the gap between her studies and her future career, while taking advantage of learning how she could get the most out of her degree.

Halifax-born and raised, Christine says she was always into sports. She made the early decision to go to St. FX to play varsity volleyball. Engineering, to her, seemed like a “good challenge,” and one that would yield plenty of job prospects at the end of her degree.

When the volleyball team was discontinued in her second year, Christine was not about to sit idle with this extra time on her hands. She re-directed her energy into other volunteer roles, coaching youth volleyball and running for student council.

After wrapping-up her two-year diploma in Engineering, Christine’s next step was to complete her degree through Dal, choosing to major in Industrial Engineering for its broad scope and endless possibilities. Co-op itself was never a question. In fact, it was what made Industrial Engineering all the more appealing.

“My goal beginning the co-op program was to find three jobs that gave me very different experiences,” she says, letting her try three different industries and three different roles. The idea of waiting to discover her career interests until after graduation was a risk she wasn’t willing to take — after all, she adds that co-op is really “a four-month trial before you have to commit to something.” Her work term experiences not only kept her productive during breaks between semesters of course work, but taught her more about herself, including what she likes, and maybe more importantly, what she doesn’t like.

And while you’d think balancing a full course-load, job searches, and work terms would be enough, Christine still found more to occupy her time, tutoring high school students, holding a role on a student society, organizing a national industrial engineering conference, and even serving as co-op ambassador, where she’d play a role in recommending ideas and solutions to further improve the co-op experience for other Dal students.

As she goes on to graduate this spring, Christine is feeling confident about her career goals, and in her ability to communicate her skills and experiences once she starts tackling interviews.

“Completing the co-op program has put me leaps and bounds ahead of where I would have been if I opted to not do the program. I am much more confident with both my academic and technical skills. I have a better idea of which industry I want to pursue … and what I have to offer.” (Allison Auld)

Aaron D. Szeto, Master of Architecture

Professional discovery by design

When Aaron Szeto decided to pursue his Master of Architecture degree, he only applied to Dalhousie.

“The co-op program was a strong draw,” says Aaron, “There are not a lot of architecture schools in Canada that offer it, and it was important for me to have that practical experience.”

Having completed his Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies at Dal, which also features a co-op component, Aaron says that his undergraduate work term experience was a defining point that helped him to gain confidence, develop an adaptable mindset, and realize that the more he put into his work, the more he got out of it.

Growing up in Edmonton, Aaron was always interested in design — making t-shirts, brochures, and posters for his church and other community groups for mental health. While he envisioned that his post-grad career path would lead him to projects in the healthcare sector, his graduate co-op work term with Kasian Architecture Interior Design & Planning Ltd. in Vancouver sparked a shift in his plans.

“My supervisor decided to place me on more projects within the commercial sector, which ended up being a major benefit for my learning experience,” he says. “The tasks I was given were more varied, and they often placed me in a larger decision-making position that allowed me to take greater initiative. Being able to have this kind of input as a young designer was quite exciting.”

Now in his final year of the program, Aaron is paying it forward — applying what he learned through his co-op experience to his work as a teaching assistant, and modelling the mentorship he provides to his students after the kind of support and guidance he received from his co-op supervisor. “He was very aware of the type of experience I should try to gain through the different stages of project delivery and would provide just enough direction to allow for more flexible learning,” says Aaron.

Aaron feels that his time at Kasian has strengthened both his technical and professional skills. He has since been putting them into practice through his participation at recent conferences across Canada, where he has had the chance to present his thesis research and engage with diverse stakeholder groups.

“Architecture students tend to live inside a bubble during school, so co-op provides an opportunity to expose us to real-life situations, maintain a dialogue with people from other backgrounds, and contribute to a larger discussion around our built environment. This program has taught me not only what it means to be a working architect, but what it takes to be a working professional in my field.” (Andrea McKay)

Craig Dedels, Master of Planning

Blazing a sustainable career path

Craig Dedels is the kind of student who likes to blaze his own trail. By his own admission, the path that led him to pursue a Masters of Planning was a long and winding one, which included firefighting in his home province of British Columbia, teaching scuba diving and running a busy restaurant kitchen. But seeking a way to build on his previous work as an environmental consultant, and use his education to positively impact communities, eventually brought him to the east coast and Dalhousie.

“Dal shines when it comes to rural and community planning,” says Craig, “and this is an exciting time to be on the ground in Halifax with all of the new planning initiatives that are going on.”
It was Professor Jessica MacDonald, Craig’s planning practice instructor and the director of planning for the Town of Bridgewater, who first drew his attention to the Energize Bridgewater sustainability program in her class one day last winter.

Craig not only saw this as the perfect match for his graduate research focus, but as a potential opportunity for his co-op work term. There was just one thing missing — a job. So he pitched the idea of a summer work term to Leon de Vreede, the town’s sustainability planner, and helped identify government funding programs that could help subsidize his wages.

“Leon recognized how mutually beneficial this could be so we crafted the role together, keeping the Town’s needs and my own competencies in mind,” he says, noting that he now sees de Vreede as a professional mentor. Based on his experience, Craig also nominated his supervisor for a Top Co-op Employer Award.

Craig is especially proud of the work he contributed to the Community Energy Investment Plan which included taking the lead on consultations with rental housing tenants and the Mi’kmaq community. “I carried out tasks well above what was expected of me as a co-op student and took the chance to develop my leadership abilities wherever I could.”

Fittingly, the energy plan Craig contributed to recently resulted in the Town of Bridgewater earning a GLOBE Climate Leadership Award in the “Small Municipal Trailblazer” category. The awards recognize exceptional Canadian organizations that are at the forefront of action on climate change.

Though his work term ended in August, his research and work for the Town of Bridgewater has continued. “Bridgewater has the staff capacity and the political will to be a progressive success story for the East Coast. I feel as though I have played a small but significant role in moving it toward a more sustainable future, and I know I will draw upon this experience for years to come.”

Looking ahead, Craig says that the closer he gets to his graduation in June, the less he wants to leave Halifax. Not surprisingly, he is already tapping into the same determination he applied to creating his own co-op opportunity for his post-grad job search. (Andrea McKay)


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